The government’s statutory adviser, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), publishes its progress report on Thursday on efforts to cut emissions. This is what it says needs to happen urgently if the UK is to reach its target of hitting net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
A national plan for insulating the UK’s draughty homes is needed. This would create thousands of new green jobs as the UK struggles to emerge from the coronavirus recession. Previous attempts at national programmes have foundered and there are few incentives for homeowners to pursue energy efficiency, but housing is one of the biggest sources of greenhouse gas emissions, along with transport.
Gas boilers are one of the most intractable problems for reducing emissions. Alternatives such as ground-source heat pumps have been slow to take off, but low-carbon heating must become the dominant form of new heating installation by the early 2030s.
Earlier this year, the prime minister pledged to bring forward the phase-out of diesel and petrol vehicles to 2035. The CCC says its research suggests the switch could be managed by 2032, despite objections by car manufacturers.
Oil prices stand at historic lows, making this a good time to raise fuel duty without hitting consumers, according to the CCC. About GBP15bn a year could be raised in government revenues that could be recycled into other green measures, such as incentives to motorists to switch to electric vehicles.
Agriculture and land use
Tree planting and restoring peatlands, wetlands and other natural carbon sinks could generate “shovel-ready” projects that create new jobs around the country – in rural areas, but also in cities where green space is shrinking. The agriculture bill going through parliament should offer an opportunity for more nature-friendly farming that helps lock carbon into vegetation and soils, turning agriculture from a major source of emissions to a net absorber.
Reskilling and retraining programmes
The net zero economy will require a net zero workforce, according to the report. This will include everything from installing low-carbon boilers and home insulation to improving broadband networks (for more home-working) and creating jobs in burgeoning industries such as offshore wind. The recovery from the Covid-19 crisis offers an opportunity for the government to step in with retraining incentives.
Behavioural changes in lockdown
About half of employed people in the UK were working from home during April, the CCC found, showing how much home working is possible. If more of us worked at home, transport emissions would be vastly reduced, so more employers should be encouraged to make the changes permanent where possible. New infrastructure is needed to help people continue to cycle and walk to work. The public sector should lead by example in encouraging remote working.
Targeted science and innovation funding
Kickstarting research and innovation in low-carbon technologies will be vital if the UK is to become a centre of low-carbon development after leaving the EU. Promising technologies include hydrogen fuel and the development of carbon capture and storage in depleted oilfields under the North Sea.
Adaptation to the effects of the climate crisis
Ministers have pledged to spend GBP5bn on flood defences, which could be brought forward to protect homes and create green jobs. Housebuilders and homeowners also need to adapt the UK’s housing to hotter summers; older people in particular are in danger from more frequent heatwaves. Growing thick ivy on the walls is one good way to protect a house against overheating in scorching summers, the CCC says.